The U.K.’s Brexit plan is in turmoil after Parliament rejected Theresa May’s EU deal this week by a historic margin — leaving both sides with just weeks to avoid economic chaos. With no agreement in place, the default outcome is that the U.K. crashes out of the European Union on March 29.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would apply tariffs and customs charges to the goods moving in and out of the U.K. — meaning trade between U.K. and Europe is likely to turn to gridlock.
That scenario would be felt immediately in the port of Dover, the UK’s main trade gateway to Europe. Currently, trade is seamless, because no border checks even of just a few minutes could lead to tailbacks lasting for several days on Dover-to-France shipping route, where trucks line up to board ferries crossing the English channel.
That would put fresh food and medicinal supplies at risk, while haulage businesses would not be able to guarantee deliveries and prices would likely rise sharply until new trade agreements were put in place.
Eric Mattheeuws is the founder of a fueling and hauling business that relies on cross-border trade. His company makes 100 channel crossings a week and fills up over 1,000 trucks a day at its gas pumps.
“Under WTO rules, it will be totally different. We believe there will be an awful lot of document problems on both sides of the water,” he told VICE News. “For example, every night we see tens of trucks going from Rotterdam to London with fresh flowers. If they don’t know if they’ll arrive fresh in time for people who want to buy them in the morning, they won’t do it, because the risk of not being able to deliver will be so high.”
This segment originally aired January 14, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.